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Trespasser (also known as Jurassic Park: Trespasser) is a 1998 action-adventure video game that serves as both a (non-canon) sequel to the film of the same name and a spin-off to the Jurassic Park franchise. It was developed by DreamWorks Interactive and published by Electronic Arts.
It was an incredibly ambitious game with a vision far beyond anything either the developers or the PCs of the time could achieve, including the use of one of the earliest instances of a physics engine based on classical mechanics. However, the game is also extremely demanding, thus required a fast and powerful computer to adequately display the game's detailed graphics without pixelation artifacts.
Trespasser was the brainchild of Seamus Blackley and Austin Grossman, two former employees of System Shock creators Looking Glass Studios. Seamus Blackley had worked on a bipedal animation model for the game Terra Nova, and felt it would work perfectly with raptors. This evolved into a vision of what was effectively the Crysis of its day, a game featuring a vast, open jungle for the player to explore (the game was not originally even intended to have levels), filled with hundreds of trees and populated with dinosaurs that would act like living animals. The game would have an advanced physics engine, handling all movement using kinematic calculations rather than canned animations, and the player would have a "virtual body" they controlled rather than just being a "floating gun" as in previous shooters.
This pitch gained interest and the team got the licence for The Lost World: Jurassic Park, along with cooperation from Steven Spielberg and access to the late Sir Richard Attenborough to reprise his role as John Hammond, delivering story exposition about the island, Isla Sorna. With this in hand they pitched the game to several studios, ending up being hired on by Dreamworks Interactive (now know as DICE Los Angeles) with Electronic Arts as the publisher.
The game was three years in development, and constantly behind schedule and over budget. It was supposed to he released to coincide with the release of The Lost World: Jurassic Park in 1997, but was delayed a further year. As interviews were conducted, the list of promised features ballooned while the dev team was struggling to get the physics engine and open world to function: when the original deadline passed, the team had yet to even get a dinosaur functioning within an actual game map. Many systems were designed in separate applications by teams that had little communication with one another and could not be bought together in the game's actual engine. Ultimately, many had to be trimmed down: most obviously, rather than dinosaurs using a complex modelling system which would "know" how to stand, leap, and move around believably, they are basically a ball that rolls around the world with the model stuck to it trying to animate itself to keep up and invariably failing.
Without a modern game engine, even the simplest functions were painstaking: placing objects on the ground, for example, required they be placed manually in 3DS Max and then the game loaded to make sure they were not hovering. Even worse, the computers of the time could barely handle Max running with the number of objects in one of Trespasser's levels: an action as simple as clicking on an object to select it could take 30-60 seconds to resolve.
Eventually EA had enough and demanded the game be finished as quickly as possible, causing the removal of many features and the release of a buggy and obviously unfinished mess. The game essentially had an entire year of Crunch Time which left staff utterly exhausted: that it shipped at all is a minor miracle.
Following the events of The Lost World: Jurassic Park, a sightseer named Anne crash-lands on Isla Sorna - InGen‘s Site B, where the dinosaurs were cloned to be transported to Isla Nublar. She fights her way through by following a monorail track which leads to the island‘s mountains, where she is able to contact the US Navy via an emergency channel to rescue her by helicopter.
Why It Sucks
- Constant graphical clipping errors and problems with the physics engine mishandling collisions. It is not uncommon to see an object launch miles into the sky or fly sideways at ridiculous speed for no apparent reason. Problems with how the physics engine handles friction also led to almost all puzzles involving stacking objects being removed from the game.
- Anne takes excessive fall damage: even tiny drops can be fatal, and it is believed that at higher difficulties the ATX mod is unwinnable without cheating because of several instances of mandatory fall damage that are increased to the point of being instant death.
- The game runs extremely poorly on contemporary hardware, with constant framerate drops and crashes. The physics calculations are particularly demanding, with more than ten physics objects ("boxes") moving at once causing rampant slowdown: unfortunately, one raptor on its own counts as five boxes. Even on much more modern hardware, certain effects such as blood can cause absurd framerate issues.
- A huge amount of promised features were cut outright. For example, the island was supposed to have a living ecosystem where dinosaurs would determine what to do based on conditions such as how hungry they were and whether or not they were injured, which would also determine how aggressive they would be. Unfortunately the AI simply wasn't up to this and would bug out and swing between extreme states, leaving the dinosaurs standing still, unable to decide what to do. In the end, the dinosaurs just had their hunger and aggression set to maximum no matter what and all their other emotions removed, save for a few "friendly" raptors which the team missed, which are mostly found in the Industrial Jungle level.
- Due to the huge amount of cut features, there are boatloads of unused content still in the game files.
- Poor AI. The dinosaur pathfinding in particular proved to be so bad that dinosaurs simply cannot enter buildings in the finished game, because if they were allowed to they would always become stuck or fall out of the level.
- There are some mechanics that are implemented in very odd ways: for example, a dinosaur has a "damage strip" inside its mouth and contact with this is what actually deals damage. This means Anne can be killed by standing too close to a dead dinosaur if it died with its mouth open. Another oddity is the tranq weapons, which do not actually put dinosaurs to sleep: instead, they just cease all animations and stand still in their default pose until the effect wears off.
- You can only use your right arm, resulting in several awkward situations. The player model doesn't actually even have a left arm, because the programmers had enough trouble getting one arm working. The player character also has absurdly large breasts to hide the fact that she doesn't have legs.
- The player has a rather absurd degree of control over Anne's arm, but this is never really used for anything in the game: most of the puzzles just consist of pushing, pulling on or throwing an object or finding a keycard, and weapons default to having their sights aligned when they are picked up, so there is no need to move them around.
- Due to Anne's lack of a second arm, it was impossible to create reloading animations. As a result, guns cannot be reloaded and must be discarded when they are empty.
- Almost every melee weapon is useless: because they would collide with Anne's character model as she moved around, the developers had to set the mass of these objects to 0, which means they cannot deal damage. Since it deals contact damage, the electric prod weapon still does this if it is placed on Anne's back. The only melee weapon that actually functions correctly is Nedry's mace, a special weapon only found in one level.
- Attempts at immersion just make the game more annoying to play. There is no HUD, Anne's health is represented by a tattoo on one of her breasts, and instead of an ammo counter Anne will call out how many rounds are in a gun whenever she picks it up, fires it or draws it.
- The dinosaurs sound nothing like in the film. This is noticeable with the Velociraptors and the T. rexes. Of course the most blatant example is the Parasaurolophus, which instead of playing the "plant chewing" sound when it eats, makes the sound of a basketball bouncing.
- Awkward and unintentionally hilarious physics, including the bipedal dinosaurs not moving correctly in relation to their own legs. The Angry Video Game Nerd described this as "Every dinosaur walks like they just drank an entire case of Rolling Rock."
- The dinosaurs also lack any ability to "emote" (eg. posture and react to particular situations) and mostly just trundle and bounce vaguely around the environment.
- None of the music from any of the movies appears in the game, and there isn't much music period.
- Anne's dialog can sometimes be a little annoying or bizarre, especially when she talks back to Hammond, even though his voiceovers are supposed to be her memories of a book she read.
- A rather anti-climactic final boss fight because of the fact that it’s weaker than the T. rexes or the Albertosaurs.
- Minnie Driver does a decent job as Anne, while Sir Richard Attenborough does an excellent job of fleshing out the lore, reading out sections of John Hammond's autobiography.
- The game can actually be pretty atmospheric and even tense on the rare occasions it isn't bugging out.
- Fan-developed mods later fixed some of the more serious issues with the game, though it is still far from what it was supposed to be.
Prior to its release, the game was hyped as revolutionizing PC gaming. When it came out, the game was deemed a disappointment and a missed opportunity, getting mostly low ratings from critics (in some cases it was mocked as being the worst game of 1998 and even compared to the infamous Daikatana), and selling only 50,000 copies.
GameSpot included Trespasser as one of nominees for the title of the Most Disappointing Game of the Year ("losing" to Star Wars Rebellion) and awarded it the Worst Game of the Year (PC), commenting: "Of all the games released this year, none was as ill-received and terrible as Trespasser. No game was implemented as poorly, and no game squandered its potential as much. No game played as awfully. (...) There's one thing we won't forget: Trespasser was undoubtedly the worst game of 1998."
The game has a fan community which has created new levels, modifications (including but not limited to new weapons and dinosaurs), as well as improvements from the original game, not to mention remakes and spiritual successors. And lastly, the game’s control scheme inspired the developers of Surgeon Simulator 2013 and Octodad.
In an interview with the game‘s fan site, TresCom, the game‘s lead designer, Seamus Blackley, has gone on to say that "[he] would have assigned the 25 year old Seamus a strong producer who'd have builled him to restrict the scope of innovation to something manageable", and that "[he] was too young and stupid to realize that less is more."
Playlist for the Research Indicates Let's Play: See here.